In the years since authorities say John Jonchuck dropped his 5-year-old daughter into Tampa Bay from the top of a bridge, his perspective — of the night his daughter died and of the aftermath, as doctors treat him in a state mental hospital — has been missing from the public record.
For the first time, new court files reveal that Jonchuck, 29, told a doctor “voices” urged him to kill Phoebe.
“I was hearing voices saying that if me and Phoebe didn’t die, everybody was going to go to hell,” Jonchuck said, according to the records.
He revealed these details to a psychiatrist, Emily Lazarou, during a two-day evaluation in October 2017 and May of this year to determine his mental state at the time of Phoebe’s death. Another doctor, hired to assess Lazarou’s methods, quoted them in a deposition, which was made public after being filed in court.
Lazarou asked Jonchuck who was going to die? He replied: “Everybody in the world.”
Phoebe plummeted 62 feet from the Dick Misener Bridge into Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, 2015. A police officer said he watched Jonchuck pull over, lift Phoebe from the back seat of his car and drop her over the edge.
“I think about her every night, in the mornings when I wake up,” Jonchuck told the psychiatrist, according to the records. He said he still has “bad dreams” in which his daughter is “laying there” and he can’t “get her to wake up.”
Jonchuck elaborates: “Because I was a really good father and she loved me so much and I always promised her that I’m not going to let anything happen, and I did.”
Speculation has held that he had a psychotic break, or faked one to try to get away with murder, that drugs eroded his mind, or that strange religious diversions led him to the water.
He carried around a Swedish Bible in the days before Phoebe’s death, including to the office of a lawyer who called authorities about his bizarre behavior. She said he had referred to her as the “creator.” Jonchuck’s stepmother said he “became fixated,” spreading salt around doors to ward off evil. A receptionist at a church said he claimed to have learned he was related to the Pope. He referred to Phoebe as a demon.
When police stopped him after he drove away from the bridge where he let go of Phoebe, Jonchuck had two Bibles in the car. One was open to a passage: “You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters.”
The psychiatrist asked Jonchuck why he cared about everyone else dying. “Because I felt like with that Bible that night I was telling everybody that I was the Creator,” he said.
And: “Because I felt like the voices were telling me something that was real.”
And: “Because I didn’t want anybody else to get hurt.”
Jonchuck’s lawyers plan to argue he cannot be convicted because he was insane, unaware what he was doing was wrong, when he killed Phoebe. The trial, already delayed several times, is scheduled for March. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison.
Until then, he is expected to continue receiving treatment at a state evaluation center in Gainesville.
Times Staff Writer Lane DeGregory contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @zacksampson. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.